Director: David Soren
Screenplay: Darren Lemke and Robert D. Siegel and David Soren (story by David Soren)
Stars: Ryan Reynolds (Turbo), Paul Giamatti (Chet), Michael Peña (Tito), Samuel L. Jackson (Whiplash), Luis Guzmán (Angelo), Bill Hader (Guy Gagné), Snoop Dogg (Smoove Move), Maya Rudolph (Burn), Ben Schwartz (Skidmark), Richard Jenkins (Bobby), Ken Jeong (Kim Ly), Michelle Rodriguez (Paz), Mike Bell (White Shadow), Aidan Andrews (Bike Boy), Aaron Berger (Danny), Jen Cohn (Network Reporter)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2013
Country: U.S.Turbo
TurboIn Turbo, Ryan Reynolds voices the titular snail, whose real name is Theo, but prefers to be called “Turbo” because he feels the need for speed, which is not a good thing if you’re one of the slowest creatures on earth. Watching old VHS copies of Indianapolis 500 races, he imagines himself to be a racecar speeding across the blacktop in competition with Guy Gagné (Bill Hader), a celebrated world champion who is as good at delivering catchy bromides in front of a camera as he is at racing. Turbo resents his lack of speed and endures all manner of mockery from the other snails with whom he works and lives in a tomato garden, which puts him comfortably among any number of animated underdog heroes who have dreamed of being something beyond their nature—wooden puppets longing to be real boys, mermaids wishing they could live in the human world, ants wanting to be inventors, and rats desiring to be gourmet chefs, to name just a few.

That this narrative is one of the de facto fallbacks for animated kids’ movies makes sense because children are so adept at dreaming and imagining fantastical lives beyond their relatively powerless place in the world. They understand and appreciate characters like Turbo, and if his dreams of being something other than what he is form the core of his appeal to the intended audience, then the gee-whiz eye candy of the movie’s 3-D animation will likely seal the deal, for Turbo is, even by the intensifying standards of modern computer-generated animation, an impressively visceral, immersive visual experience, albeit one that runs the risk of wearing you out by the end (Christopher Nolan’s ace cinematography Wally Pfister is listed in the credits as a “visual consultant”). Story artist-turned-first-time director David Soren keeps the frame constantly in motion, turning much of the movie into a loopy, brightly colored kaleidoscope of velocity; it is testament to what he’s pulled off that we stop forgetting at some point how absurd the whole thing is.

Like the other misunderstood dreamers of kids’ movies, Turbo has little or no support from the other snails around him, who are more than happy to plod along in life. The only real support he gets comes in the forms of excuses and apologies from his practically minded brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), who is in charge of safety in the garden where all the snails works. Everything changes, though, when Turbo is sucked into the engine of a souped-up street racer and gets doused with nitrous oxide, which magically endows him with all the properties of a racecar—not just blazing speed, but also headlights in his eyes, radio in his mouth, and turn signals in his tail. Some of the movie’s funniest bits involves him discovering his newfound abilities and being unable to turn them off, which makes him even more of an outcast than he already was (the dream realized is rejected with even more fervor than the dream itself), although the movie is often at its comedic best when it goes deliriously dark, notably in a recurring gag about snails being grabbed by crows and the nonchalant response of the other snails (“Well, there goes Steve …”).

Life takes another turn when Turbo and Chet are captured by Tito (Michael Peña), who drives a taco truck and, like Turbo, dreams of doing something bigger and better, but is constantly stymied by his well-meaning, but relentlessly practical older brother Angelo (Luis Guzmán), who runs their taco stand. It turns out that Tito and a motley group of shop owners in a decaying Los Angeles strip mall like to race snails at night for fun, and when he sees Turbo tear through the miniature racetrack, he knows he’s found something special. Advertising the world’s fastest snail (his initial idea) doesn’t do much for business, so he goes for broke and takes Turbo to Indianapolis to sign him up for the Indy 500, which allows Turbo to turn his VHS-fueled fantasies of racing against Guy into an unlikely reality.

The movie has a special affinity for oddballs and outsiders, for whom Turbo serves as a kind of mascot. The shop owners, which include Richard Jenkins’ lanky hobby shop owner Bobby, Ken Jeong’s manicurist Kim Ly, and Michelle Rodriguez’s auto mechanic Paz, are a cross-section of caricatured ethnic diversity, which is also reflected in their gonzo-minded racing snails, who become Turbo’s best friends and support crew: de facto leader Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), Skidmark (Ben Schwartz), and White Shadow (Mike Bell). Their interactions are good for some laughs, which derive primarily from the discrepancy between their lowly status as snails and their high-minded and often unexpectedly confirmed view of themselves (at times the movie wants to make fun of their sense of self, while at other times it chides us for buying into it).

The movie lacks anything resembling a memorable villain—the attempt to turn Guy into a callous nemesis who hides his cruelty behind a smooth French accent, a toothy smile, and a carefully orchestrated on-camera persona doesn’t really work—but it doesn’t really need t, either. The real conflict is between Turbo’s desires and the realities of his world, which are magically transcended. Thus, Turbo, which dutifully and cheerfully follows a well-worn path and rarely if ever deviates from the rising-underdog formula, doesn’t break any new ground, but what it does it does quite well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more than just the kids in the theater don’t feel the tug of suspense as the now supersonic snail tries to win it all.

Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick

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All images copyright © DreamWorks Animation

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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